The big baseball news Wednesday was that the Oakland A’s had hired Ron Washington, the former Texas Rangers manager and A’s assistant, as a special instructor in charge of shoring up their awful defense.
While also big news for the Rangers, the bigger news was what Phil Klein did in his first big-league start. He allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings and was the winning pitcher in a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
But it wasn’t easy. Four relievers combined for a thrilling escape act, including Shawn Tolleson en route to his first career save in the ninth inning, and the offense’s inability to score late runs didn’t come back to haunt them.
“I can’t say enough about Phil Klein,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Tremendous, gutsy, gritty. For him to stay composed in this environment really says a lot about what kind of guy he is.”
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The defense was also mostly flawless, aside from an error by Adrian Beltre on Klein’s 81st and final pitch. Delino DeShields was the defensive wiz of the game for his work in front of the Green Monster in left field.
It would have made Washington proud.
Washington was never shy about how good he was at coaching infielders, and some of his past pupils have the hardware to show for it. During his time with the Rangers, especially early on, the expectation was that Elvis Andrus would collect a Gold Glove for fielding excellence at shortstop.
That never happened, though Andrus was a finalist for the award in 2012. He has always had a flair for making the spectacular play — even to the point where it was once a surprise when he failed to get to a ball in the hole or behind the bag.
And when he was caught in a fielding rut, usually the result of a young player letting his focus lapse, Washington was there with some terse words to snap him back into place.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Andrus said. “He always did it for the right reason. He said, ‘Worry about it when I don’t tell you anything. If I tell you something, it means I want you to get better and I want you to know you’re better.’”
After 40 games, one-quarter of a baseball season, it’s apparent that Andrus misses Washington’s coaching more than any other Rangers player.
Andrus isn’t a young player anymore, at least not in terms of big-league service time. He is in the seventh year of his career, yet the Rangers’ new coaching staff is still seeing Andrus check out during games and make silly mistakes that too often have proven costly.
He has a team-high nine errors, four this month, but none in the past week. He wasn’t charged with an error Tuesday on a Mike Napoli roller, but some thought the official scorer was too kind to him.
“It was going to be a do-or-die play,” said Tony Beasley, who now works with Andrus on his fielding.
Beasley said that Andrus is reminded each day about his focus, is committed to his routine, and wants to be better. He has never blown off a Beasley suggestion or request for his time.
The lines of communication are wide open, which gives Beasley more information to help Andrus.
“I can say whatever I need to say,” Beasley said.
Beasley, by all accounts, is doing his job.
“They’re pretty similar,” Andrus said, comparing Beasley and Washington. “They’re really into it. They like to talk about it. They just want me to get better.”
Of late, Beasley has seen Andrus become sharper. He doesn’t mind the empty chances like on the Napoli roller, but sloppy throws like the one last week on a Salvador Perez grounder aren’t acceptable.
Andrus didn’t set his feet, something Beasley has been harping on along with being better with the backhand, being more of a distraction while holding runners, and making sure of the routine plays.
But focus is atop Andrus’ to-do list.
“The main thing is to challenge him to focus every game, every pitch,” Beasley said. “He told me there are times he finds himself in a daze or lapsing out there. We find ways for him to challenge that whenever it’s coming on.
“Some of these things you expect to be automatic because it is his seventh season, but as a coach I’ve learned to never take that approach and assume. You evaluate and challenge that player to be his best, and he’s taken to that.”
Andrus was delighted to hear that Oakland had hired Washington, who remains a fixture in Andrus’ mind.
“It makes me feel good,” Andrus said. “I don’t really have enough words to thank Wash for all the work he put into to me.”
But Andrus’ glove work of late suggests that Beasley is making inroads. It hasn’t been easy and isn’t easy, and Beasley isn’t going to ease up on Andrus.
“I do believe in him defensively,” Beasley said. “I don’t think he’s peaked.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760